Europe/Americas update: April 7-8 2018

INEQUALITY

If you’re worried about dying in a climate change-induced future hellscape, I have good news–unchecked inequality might tear us all apart before we can get there:

World leaders are being warned that the continued accumulation of wealth at the top will fuel growing distrust and anger over the coming decade unless action is taken to restore the balance.

 

An alarming projection produced by the House of Commons library suggests that if trends seen since the 2008 financial crash were to continue, then the top 1% will hold 64% of the world’s wealth by 2030. Even taking the financial crash into account, and measuring their assets over a longer period, they would still hold more than half of all wealth.

Well, good for them? They’ve earned it? If this doesn’t trouble you, but the rise of fascist and fascist-sympathetic leaders across the Western world does (see below), I would respectfully suggest you take a few minutes and ponder the connection between those two phenomena.

EUROPE

HUNGARY

There’s only one story from Europe today, and it’s not a good one. Remember how a couple of days ago there were analysts suggesting that high turnout would be bad for Viktor Orbán’s Fidesz party in Sunday’s election? Well, turnout was reportedly pretty high…and Fidesz won massively:

Prime Minister Viktor Orban of Hungary, who has set about transforming this former Soviet bloc member from a vibrant democracy into a semi-autocratic state under one political party’s control, appeared to have won a sweeping victory in national elections on Sunday, with 93 percent of the vote counted.

 

By securing two-thirds of the seats in Parliament, Mr. Orban’s Fidesz party — along with its ally, the Christian Democrats — now has the power to change the Constitution and further bend the nation to his will.

 

“Hungary won a big victory,” Mr. Orban said in his victory speech to a crowd of supporters gathered on the bank of the Danube just before midnight. He added that there was still “a big fight ahead” but that the parliamentary majority would allow him to continue to protect Hungary.

I’m not sure about Hungary, but it’s certainly a big victory for Orbán, who has managed to convince Hungarian voters that the European Union, migrants, and Jews are to blame for their struggles in life (see above) while he and his inner circle take turns looting the country.

Hungary’s slide into illiberal democracy, and from there dictatorship, is pretty well locked in at this point. With the power to change the constitution Orbán can game the Hungarian political system in ways that will be difficult if not impossible to overcome. It’s no exaggeration to say that this is the single biggest threat the European Union now faces, greater even than Brexit. Because while losing Britain is a challenge, it’s one that will be contained, one way or another, when Britain leaves. On the other hand, Orbán’s brand of gentle fascism is going to metastasize across the EU, both because other right-wing parties will copy his success and because it’s the same international group of xenophobic nationalist chuds who are pushing these ideas across Europe and in the US. They’re going to eat away at the EU from the inside, scrapping its precious liberal values and tearing at its unity while continuing to reap the benefits of membership.

While we’re at it, you can swap “Western liberal order” in for “European Union” in that paragraph above and the message is still pretty much the same.  This is a serious, serious problem. And its metastasis, by the way, has already begun:

“There is something broader going on in the region which has produced a patriotic, nativist, conservative discourse through which far-right ideas managed to become mainstream,” said Tom Junes, a historian with the Human and Social Studies Foundation in Sofia, Bulgaria.

 

In many places, the shift to the right has included the rehabilitation of Nazi collaborators, often fighters or groups celebrated as anti-communists or defenders of national liberation. In Hungary and Poland, governments are also eroding the independence of courts and the media, prompting human rights groups to warn that democracy is threatened in parts of a region that threw off Moscow-backed dictatorships in 1989.

 

Some analysts say Russia is covertly helping extremist groups in order to destabilize Western liberal democracies. While that claim is difficult to prove with concrete evidence, it’s clear that the growth of radical groups has pushed moderate conservative European parties to the right to hold onto votes. That’s the case in Hungary, where Prime Minister Viktor Orban and his Fidesz party — the front-runner in the country’s April 8 parliamentary election — have drawn voters with an increasingly strident anti-migrant campaign.

AMERICAS

BRAZIL

Former Brazilian President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva finally surrendered to police on Saturday to begin serving his 12 year sentence for a corruption and money laundering conviction related to the Odebrecht/Operation Car Wash scandal. Lula, who says his conviction was a political railroading, is appealing the conviction, but in the meantime he will be making his home in prison, which likely ends his hopes of resuming the Brazilian presidency in October’s election. However, he may be given a sliver of daylight this week by the Brazilian Supreme Court, which could revisit a 2016 ruling that allows for the imprisonment of convicts if their first appeal fails, even if they pursue a second appeal. That ruling is the reason why Lula is now in custody, and if the court were to reverse itself then Lula would presumably have to be released.

VENEZUELA

Henri Falcón’s chances of unseating Nicolás Maduro in May’s presidential election may hinge on one thing–boosting turnout:

Maduro’s increasingly tight grip on Venezuela’s politics amid a catastrophic economic crisis has prompted the opposition coalition to boycott the upcoming vote. The group’s leaders are criticizing Falcón, a 56-year-old politician, who was once a ruling party supporter, for participating in what they maintain is a sham vote.

 

The polls, however, show that Falcón has a fighting chance — if he can get people to vote. A March survey by the firm Datanalisis indicated that 75 percent of the adult population rejects Maduro and that Falcón was leading him by 10 points. That same poll, however, showed that only 28 percent of the people opposing Maduro plan to vote.

Of course, part of the reason only 28 percent those who oppose Maduro plan to vote is because they believe Maduro has rigged the system so there’s no point to voting. If they’re right, then nothing Falcón does will matter.

UNITED STATES

At long last, it appears some generous benefactor has seen the value of bribing Jared Kushner to get access to Donald Trump investing in some prime Manhattan real estate:

The Kushner family appeared on Friday to have struck a deal to buy out its partner in the troubled Fifth Avenue skyscraper at the center of its real estate empire, according to a filing with the Securities and Exchange Commission.

 

The Kushners’ partner, the publicly traded Vornado Realty Trust, has indicated for months that it was interested in selling its stake in the building, and on Friday, Steven Roth, Vornado’s chairman, said in the filing that it had reached a handshake deal “to sell our interest to our partner.”

Here’s the thing: the Kushners don’t have enough money to buy Vornado out on their own. So somebody else is involved. “Who” and “why” seem like important questions for which somebody needs to find some answers.

Speaking of big money changing hands at the highest levels of government, the US Navy is bringing the cost effectiveness of the F-35 program to its new Gerald Ford aircraft carrier class by making plans for huge purchases in bulk before they even know if the new vessels work:

The Navy wants to go all in on the USS Ford-class aircraft carrier program. Less than a year after the first-in-class ship’s commissioning (before it ever launched or recovered an aircraft…a first in history), the sea service is exploring options to buy them in bulk. The Navy has already repeated several common acquisition mistakes with the Ford program, but this latest scheme would pile on more problems. The Navy committed to this program—which includes several new major ship systems like nuclear reactors, catapults, and radar systems—while their designs were still in a conceptual stage, and the inevitable complications in their development have contributed greatly to the program’s $6 billion cost increase. Committing to such a large program with so many unproven systems earned the Ford-class program a spot on Senator John McCain’s (R-AZ) “America’s Most Wasted Report.” Yet, James Geurts, the Navy’s Assistant Secretary for Research, Development, and Acquisition, said before the House Armed Services Committee on March 6 that the Navy is studying a potential two-ship block buy for the third- and fourth-in-class ships.

 

Geurts testified that such a plan could save $2.5 billion over the total cost of the program, although this is only a rough estimate at this point as they are asking for evidence of savings from the contractor rather than seeking an independent cost estimate. The history of this program should make everyone skeptical of such claims. The Government Accountability Office released a report in 2017 that stated cost estimates for the Ford program are unreliable because they do not take into account the risks associated with building the ships before the design has been completed and tested.

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Author: DWD

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